“Every time I need to introduce myself, and someone asks me what I do for a living, I reply that I’m a model – I can see the confusion in their eyes for a few minutes”- says Laura Leonide, and laughs.
Words by Indira Kasaeva
We sat down to talk plus size fashion, inclusivity and body image with lovely Laura Leonide, who recently featured in her first Vogue issue. Her stardom is on the rise, having worked up a stunning portfolio of campaigns with local and international brands including Skims, Adidas, Huda Beauty, and Bobbi Brown to name a few.
While her achievements speak for her, one thing to highlight is her genuine beauty and I don’t mean just physical aspect, but her personality. I met her after a shoot, at a local café to have an honest chat about where the fashion industry is at, how inclusive we are as a society, and what her favourite brands are that are out there catering to women over the size of 12. I left the interview feeling empowered and like I'd just had a chat with a close friend (having only met her an hour before).
Born and raised in Switzerland to a Mauritius father and a Swiss mother, Laura didn’t look like anyone around her. The confidence in who she is today stems from a long journey of acceptance from the age six to fourteen, and her personal outlook on life. Growing up without a role model or anyone that looked even remotely alike, even her own mother, it was a tough personal journey. The triggering moment came at the age of 14, which Laura remembers vividly.
“It was the first time I saw Beyonce’s Crazy In Love music video. For the first time in my life, I saw a woman with curves, a woman with a different body, who was considered beautiful,” says Laura.
Pre-modeling, Laura worked in a Marketing position at Protect & Gamble back home in Switzerland. Modeling wasn’t something she ever considered, until a colleague suggested it and pushed her to try. Without any luck in London or Paris, destiny brought her to Dubai, where the doors finally started opening, which indicates the demand in plus size representation.
While the regional fashion industry is evolving and creating change in terms of inclusivity, there is still a lot of room for growth explains Laura. The setback with the plus size clothing is that it requires immense research and sampling, to create the right fit. For brands this translates into substantial financial investment and time, which they don’t seem to have.
“What brands do is they adapt their existing models by just making the size bigger, but that doesn’t work for the person wearing the item. If an average size can easily wear a spaghetti strap dress, a plus size needs a wider strap to be able to wear a bra underneath to support the weight of a heavier chest. Currently, we (as plus size women) get the exact same spaghetti strap dress just made in bigger size,” says Laura jokingly .
This applies to most “curve” collections and plus-size clothing overall, and in turn translates into the retail space that doesn’t provide lucrative solutions either. Shopping physically is still a challenge for bigger sizing. There are only a few store that offer some sort of range variety, like Zara, H&M, Missguided and Marina Rinaldi, shares Laura.
Favorites in terms of quality and inclusive brands out there, shared by the model, include Lavish Alice which produce beautifully made and well-fitted clothing that go from XS up to a 26. Dima Ayad is a local, high-end brand that really understands the struggles of plus size women. Another designer really going for inclusivity that Laura revealed is Mrs. Keepa – she changes the design based on your body shape and size. In terms of athleisure, a homegrown concept, L’Couture provides quality sportswear and loungewear.
The way for brands to create collections that are genuinely inclusive, is to hire a consultant explains Laura. “During my shoots with L’Couture, they saw that the clothing didn’t really sit right with me, so they took me on as a consultant. This is where I shared feedback with their team, on what I need as a bigger body in terms of support, coverage and all the things that a regular person can’t understand.”
This comes to show that the industry is changing, however it’s still much at the adaption phase.
“We’re still at the stage where having a plus size model, is just a ticked box on the brand’s checklist. I’ve always been the only plus size model at castings and shoots,” says Laura.
“I know I’m creating a change. Yes, we might not be two-three plus size models on set, but we already have one and that’s what counts” she adds.
To delve even deeper, a lot of times it’s a whole brand image that needs to be reworked. In terms luxurious houses it's more difficult as they are a little more ridged with their style and flexiblity. It’s the medium and bridge brands that are more flexible to becoming more inclusive, because essentially fast fashion is where the money is.
From a global market perspective, other markets like the UK and US are far more advanced in terms of providing inclusive sizing ranges. Five years ago, there were no plus size models in the region, and in that sense there is progress.
“We are on a good path, but it takes time. I’m sure we will reach a stage where I’m not only the plus size model, and we will introduce a wider range of sizes like size 14!” says Laura.
The stigma of being a model directly relating to being super skinny and tall is to this day, very prevalent in the society. Some models don’t like the term “plus size” while others embrace it: “I actually use it as a strength. It distinguishes me, gives me power, and visibility. And we’re still, at a stage where we need that visibility. Otherwise, we’d have more plus size models at shoots,” replies Laura.
Her approach to fighting the stereotypes is to cultivating personality through education. One of her personal dreams is to create an elementary school program, to educate children how to accept differences.
“You have the to understand and embrace your beauty, look at those around you and not compare yourself to someone who doesn’t look at you. It’s your difference that makes you unique, your mission in life is to be you.
I asked Laura for a final statement to sum up how she feels - “Your personality can shine when you know who you are, and you accept who you are first. And then it’s about the energy you give to people”
Laura Leonide is @iamleonide on socials, for an insight into her fashion life.